SOUTH BEND — Rodney Dangerfield got more respect than Democratic candidates for statewide office in Indiana receive.

Dangerfield, the late comedian who constantly quipped that he got no respect, actually was a winner in the entertainment field. The Indiana Democratic candidates all have been losers in recent elections. Republicans currently hold all six Statehouse executive offices and both U.S. Senate seats, everything elected statewide.

One Democratic candidate for statewide office this time has a chance. Just one. It’s a chance only if there’s ticket-splitting by enough of the majority of Hoosiers who are expected vote for Republicans at the top of the ticket, President Donald Trump and Gov. Eric Holcomb. The one Democrat with a chance is former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel, the party’s nominee for attorney general, an office a Democrat hasn’t won since 1996.

Weinzapfel gets respect and support in South Bend, where he attended a major fund-raiser outside in a park for last Sunday, and in Evansville, where he served two terms as mayor. But there’s a lot of territory in between, a lot of Republican territory. His chances of winning depend on whether he convinces enough Republicans, and independents who tend to vote Republican in presidential elections, to look down the ballot and vote for a Democrat.

That happens now and then, as recently as 2012, when Democrat Glenda Ritz pulled an upset amid a Republican tide to be elected state school superintendent. The Republican incumbent was unpopular in particular with teachers, and voters looked down the ballot to voice their concerns.

Weinzapfel looked for a similar chance to run against a troubled Republican, incumbent Attorney General Curtis Hill, whose law license was suspended by the Indiana Supreme Court for professional misconduct in connection with allegations of four women that he groped them at a party in a bar after legislative adjournment. Holcomb and other Republican leaders called on Hill to resign. He wouldn’t and sought renomination.

Republican State Convention delegates narrowly ousted Hill from the ticket in June. (Hill now looks at running for governor in 2024.) His defeat was a big win for Holcomb, who now has no candidate accused of sexual harassment on his state ticket, no fellow candidate he wouldn’t want to appear with.

So, Weinzapfel now faces a different opponent, the winner of the Republican nomination in that state convention battle. That opponent, a stronger opponent, is former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, who also was elected statewide twice as Indiana secretary of state.

What does Weinzapfel do now? Well, he seeks to link Rokita to Hill, not with sexual misconduct, but with similar stands on issues, particularly with efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Hill is a part of the suit to dismantle the health care act, and Rokita supports that effort. Weinzapfel also contends that Rokita and Hill both “blindly support Donald Trump’s unstable leadership and refuse to stand up to President Trump’s corruption and bigotry.”

There is no doubt that Rokita is a solid supporter of the president. When he ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for the Senate in 2018, Rokita campaigned as the most loyal Trump supporter in the field. That’s not exactly harmful politically in Indiana. It’s not something that would get Republicans who vote for Trump to split their tickets to vote against Rokita, for Weinzapfel.

Weinzapfel got a boost when Indiana School Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, a Republican, endorsed him. She is a moderate Republican who ran afoul of more partisan Republican leaders. But her support brings to mind the way educators united to knock off that incumbent Republican school superintendent in 2012. The Indiana State Teachers Association also endorses Weinzapfel.

Howey Politics Indiana rates the race as “leans Republican.” Quite likely. But Weinzapfel still seeks to get it leaning just a speck his way by Election Day for a big upset.  

Colwell covers Indiana politics for the South Bend Tribune.